Nige­ria as a Pawn for One-China Pol­icy

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Edi­tor’s Last Note -

The Nige­rian gov­ern­ment has be­come a will­ing pawn in the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s quest to re­unify with Tai­wan. Real­iz­ing Nige­ria’s dire need for cap­i­tal in­vest­ments, amid de­clin­ing oil rev­enue, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment suc­ceeded in us­ing the prom­ise of ad­di­tional $40 bil­lion in in­vest­ment as bar­gain­ing chip to reaf­firm Nige­ria’s sup­port for Bei­jing’s One-China pol­icy. Un­der this pol­icy, Bei­jing re­quires any coun­try seek­ing diplo­matic ties with it to sever of­fi­cial re­la­tions with the gov­ern­ment in Taipei. China wants to achieve re­uni­fi­ca­tion with Tai­wan by any means nec­es­sary, in­clud­ing mil­i­tary force.

At a joint press con­fer­ence with the Chi­nese For­eign Min­is­ter last month, Ge­of­frey Onyeama, Nige­ria’s Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs, said the gov­ern­ment had or­dered the Tai­wanese trade of­fice in Abuja to close down and move to La­gos. Onyeama stated the gov­ern­ment would do ev­ery­thing to re­alise the One-China Pol­icy. While Nige­ria has no of­fi­cial diplo­matic ties with Tai­wan, the two na­tions set up trade of­fices in each other's cap­i­tal city, un­der the terms of a Mem­o­ran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing signed in 1990.

Tai­wan is not com­pet­ing against China as a trade part­ner with Nige­ria. Bei­jing's ob­jec­tive is to limit Tai­wan's in­flu­ence on the global stage in or­der to pres­sure its neigh­bour into uni­fi­ca­tion. The Tai­wanese gov­ern­ment has de­scribed China's strat­egy – of us­ing its grow­ing eco­nomic clout to iso­late the is­land na­tion diplo­mat­i­cally – as "dol­lar diplo­macy." The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has in­ten­si­fied this strat­egy since the pro-in­de­pen­dence Tai­wanese Pres­i­dent, Tsai Ing-wen, as­sumed of­fice last year.

The two Chi­nese states have had a tor­tu­ous po­lit­i­cal his­tory, dat­ing back to when Tai­wan was for­mally in­cor­po­rated as a Chi­nese ter­ri­tory un­der the Qing dy­nasty in 1683. The is­land was ceded to Ja­pan at the end of the eight-month war be­tween the Chi­nese and Ja­panese em­pires in April 1895. Fol­low­ing the end of WWII and the de­feat of Ja­pan, the so­called al­lied pow­ers re­quired the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment to end its 50-year rule over Tai­wan. The po­lit­i­cal and le­gal sta­tus of Tai­wan has been the sub­ject of much de­bate ever since.

Tai­wanese na­tion­al­ists have con­tested the idea that sovereignty of Tai­wan was trans­ferred to main­land China when Ja­pan re­nounced its im­pe­rial power. But as a for­mer Chi­nese ter­ri­tory, a claim over the sovereignty of Tai­wan is hinged on the ter­ri­to­rial atavism of China, which con­tin­ues to re­gard Tai­wan as a prov­ince.

China has never hid­den its am­bi­tion to an­nex Tai­wan. Notwith­stand­ing, Tai­wan, of­fi­cially known as the Repub­lic of China (ROC), con­sid­ers it­self an in­de­pen­dent, sov­er­eign na­tion. As a cap­i­tal­ist econ­omy and multi-party democ­racy, it also seeks a di­ver­gent po­lit­i­cal path from com­mu­nist China. Only a mi­nor­ity of the Tai­wanese peo­ple are in favour of uni­fi­ca­tion. The cur­rent pres­i­dent – who is a mem­ber of the Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party (DPP), which favours in­de­pen­dence from China – won last year’s elec­tion against a Bei­jing-friendly can­di­date of the Kuom­intang (Na­tion­al­ist Party of China).

The Oc­to­ber 25, 1971 UN res­o­lu­tion that ex­pelled the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Taipei and gave le­git­i­macy to the Peo­ple's Repub­lic of China (PRC) as the only recog­nised sov­er­eign gov­ern­ment to rep­re­sent China at the UN, ef­fec­tively launched Tai­wan into diplo­matic limbo. By 1979, the U.S. broke off ties with Tai­wan, to es­tab­lish re­la­tions with China, giv­ing va­lid­ity to the One-China pol­icy. In the mid-1990s when it made full tran­si­tion from a mar­tial law dic­ta­tor­ship to a democ­racy, Tai­wan was left with 30 diplo­matic al­lies. As of Fe­bru­ary 2017, only the Vat­i­can and 20 coun­tries, in­clud­ing two in Africa – Burk­ina Faso and Swazi­land – main­tain diplo­matic re­la­tions with the ROC.

The United States – along with a num­ber of coun­tries hold­ing diplo­matic ties with main­land China – has main­tained a pol­icy of de­lib­er­ate am­bi­gu­ity with re­gard to Tai­wan, de­spite China’s dis­agree­ments over this pol­icy. Un­of­fi­cially, the U.S. con­tin­ues to sell bil­lions of dol­lars’ worth of arms to Tai­wan. The Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment also finds scope to sup­port Tai­wan’s mem­ber­ship in in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions, such as the World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion, Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion, among oth­ers where state­hood is not a pre­con­di­tion for mem­ber­ship. While the U.S. doesn’t sup­port the in­de­pen­dence of Tai­wan, it is a stated pol­icy of the U.S. gov­ern­ment to de­fend Tai­wan against Chi­nese ag­gres­sion.

Un­der the cover of such co­op­er­a­tion with os­ten­si­bly non-diplo­matic al­lies, Tai­wan has been able to thrive eco­nom­i­cally. It earned over $314 bil­lion from ex­ports last year. Its 2015 GDP was $519 bil­lion, the 7th largest in Asia. Tai­wan en­joys a high level of eco­nomic free­dom, rank­ing 14th on Her­itage Foun­da­tion's 2016 In­dex of Eco­nomic Free­dom – Nige­ria is ranked 116th out of 186 coun­tries and placed in the "mostly un­free" cat­e­gory of the in­dex.

Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has clearly shown it has no strate­gic in­ter­est in lever­ag­ing trade op­por­tu­ni­ties with one of the rich­est na­tions in Asia. The lack of na­tional strate­gic think­ing on Tai­wan is symp­to­matic of the ad­min­is­tra­tion. The good­will it ini­tially en­joyed among Western coun­tries has been frit­tered away. The gov­ern­ment re­jected an IMF pro­gramme and it has failed to ini­ti­ate cred­itable poli­cies to at­tract sup­port from Western-backed mul­ti­lat­eral lenders. With a N2.4 tril­lion bud­get deficit to fi­nance in 2017, the gov­ern­ment could not but ac­qui­esce to Bei­jing, even though the Chi­nese have made prior in­vest­ments in Nige­ria with­out hold­ing the coun­try to ran­som. The gov­ern­ment's de­ci­sion is also a vi­o­la­tion of the MOU, which stip­u­lates Tai­wan’s of­fice should be set up in Nige­ria's cap­i­tal city.

Credit must be given to Burk­ina Faso and Swazi­land – the two, much smaller, African coun­tries that have re­fused to be swayed by China's eco­nomic diplo­macy or ac­cept to be brow­beaten into sup­port­ing the One-China agenda.

Then, there is the moral ques­tion about the in­ter­na­tional con­spir­acy against a con­clu­sive de­ter­mi­na­tion of Tai­wan’s po­lit­i­cal sta­tus. By all means, ev­ery coun­try must pro­tect its ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity. That is why se­ces­sion­ist sen­ti­ments, even in Nige­ria, are met with brute force. How­ever, the right to self­de­ter­mi­na­tion is a rec­og­nized con­struct un­der in­ter­na­tional law. The uni­fi­ca­tion am­bi­tion that China seeks with Tai­wan is both ret­ro­grade and a vi­o­la­tion of Tai­wanese right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion.

Bei­jing’s in­sis­tence that there is only one China and “Tai­wan is an in­alien­able part of China” is a sup­pres­sion of the fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights of the Tai­wanese peo­ple, ma­jor­ity of whom are not de­sirous of uni­fi­ca­tion. But China's record on hu­man rights is well-known. There­fore, a dec­la­ra­tion of in­de­pen­dence by Tai­wan will only presage a mil­i­tary re­sponse for which the out­come is pre­de­ter­mined.

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